In 2017, everyone in agriculture must put “speaking out” at the top of their list
The start of a new year is always a time of reflection. When I look back at 2016, I am reminded of Will Rogers’ comment that, “Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.”
It’s hard not to be cynical after the crop year here in the northern Red River Valley. The area had excessive amounts of rain this summer and several brutally destructive hailstorms.
However, some great strides have also been made this year. On July 29, 2016, Barack Obama signed into law a national bioengineered food disclosure standard that will set a uniform national standard, end the patchwork of different state labeling mandates, and provide consumers greater access to the information they want about the products they purchase.
Once we figure out how to get agriculture working together and amplifying one another, there is nothing we cannot accomplish”
Phillip Hayes, Director of Media Relations at the American Sugar Alliance
And, for the group of 18 women sugarbeet growers from across the United States who serve as spokeswomen for the American sugarbeet industry, 2016 was a year of hard work and achievement. Over the past year, the spokeswomen have been active voices for sugarbeets in their respective regions.
We’ve started blogs and worked to establish and maintain a strong social media presence to promote and defend our industry and American agriculture.
We will continue to generate and share truthful information and facts in 2017. This year we have given presentations to teachers about the importance of teaching ag in the classroom. We’ve talked to university students, and women in ag about the importance of advocacy. And we’ve participated in panel discussions and connected with experts in biotechnology such as Kevin Folta and Sci Babe.
However, there’s still miles to go. I recently spoke with Phillip Hayes, director of media relations at the American Sugar Alliance, about New Year’s resolutions for aggies. In 2016, Hayes traveled across the country speaking to groups of farmers and agricultural leaders.
“The point of these trips is to help growers better understand why agriculture has lost touch with everyday Americans, and what can be done to fix the problem,” Hayes said. “Right now, ag is losing the battle because we are largely communicating the same way we did thirty years ago, ignoring the generational changes that necessitate smarter messages and new communication channels.”
It’s time for everyone involved in agriculture to speak up.
“We’re largely letting special interest groups—whether they be political think tanks or extreme environmentalists—define agriculture by not defending ourselves,” said Hayes.
Agriculture is comprised of incredible people and is defined by hard work, family values and honesty. Hayes said that aggies want to help, communicate and make their voices heard, but often feel that the task is too big.
“They don’t know where to start and are fearful that they’ll sound dumb,” he said. “When I address groups of growers, my goal is to convince people that taking the first step is the hardest. If we all take it together, there’s nothing we cannot accomplish.”
In 2017, every aggie’s goal should be to take that first step and encourage others to do the same.
“Sign up for Facebook and Twitter, and tell your story. Share what you think makes agriculture and rural America so special,” Hayes said. “Follow friends, agricultural trade associations and key decision makers in your area.”
In addition to advocating for our own industries, Hayes said that it is critically important for all areas of agriculture to work together and amplify each other’s efforts to connect and communicate with the American public.
“There are only about 210,000 full-time farms left in America, so we cannot afford to lose a single one.”
There are only about 210,000 full-time family farms left in America, so we cannot afford to lose a single one. Even though we may be fierce competitors in the marketplace, we must all work together to defend our way of life,” said Hayes. “Also, agriculture has an asset that most industries would kill for: a national grassroots system of likeable spokespeople. The key is figuring out how to activate and harness the powers of this asset.”
While we can’t control the weather in 2017, if we put “speaking out” at the top of our resolution list, we can make it the best year yet for ag advocacy. Let’s make 2017 the year that we each personally commit to consistent involvement by sharing our stories and becoming more vocal about who we are and what we do.
“Once we figure out how to get agriculture working together and amplifying one another, there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” Hayes said.